Salvation By Grace Alone - Part 3

Theme: The Christian’s Sad Past

This week’s lessons describe how God’s grace in salvation impacts the Christian’s past, present, and future.

Scripture: Ephesians 2:4-8

Yesterday we looked at the first thing Paul says about the Christian’s past condition. We now need to see the other three.

The sinner is actively practicing evil. There is something even worse about the biblical view of man, according to this passage. Human beings are spiritually dead, according to verse 1. But this is a strange kind of death since, although the sinner is dead, he is nevertheless up and about, actively practicing sin. What Paul says about him is that he “follow[s] the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air...gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” To put it differently, the sinner is indeed dead to God but nevertheless very much alive to all wickedness.

Some years ago I heard John Gerstner, a former professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, compare Paul's description of our sinful state to what horror stories call a zombie. In case you are not up on zombie literature, let me explain that a zombie is a person who has died but who is still upon his feet walking around. It is a pretty gruesome concept, which is why it is in horror stories. But it gets worse. This upright, walking human corpse is also putrefying. It is rotting away. I suppose that is the most disgusting thing most people can imagine. But this is a fair description of what Paul is saying about human nature in its lost condition. Apart from Jesus Christ, these sinning human corpses are the living dead.

The sinner is enslaved. Another way to speak of our active sinful state is to point out that men and women are enslaved to sin, so that they cannot escape from it. This seems to be another part of what Paul is describing in these verses. Enslaved to what? Well, there is a tradition in the church that identifies the Christian's three great enemies as the world, the flesh, and the devil. Paul seems to be saying here that in our natural state we are enslaved to each one.

We are enslaved to the world because we follow “the ways of this world” (v.2). We think as the world thinks, with no regard for our relationship to God or our final destiny. And because we think as the world thinks, we act as the world acts too. We are enslaved to the flesh because our natural desire is to “gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and follow...its desires and thoughts” (v. 3). We want what we want, regardless of God's law or the effect of what we want and do on other people. We are enslaved to the devil because, just as we follow the ways of this world, so also do we follow “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (v.2). We are Satan's playthings, and never so much as when we are unaware even of his presence.

The sinner is by nature an object of God’s “wrath.” The worst thing of all about our sinful condition apart from God's grace in Jesus Christ is that we are objects of God's wrath. Most people can hardly take this seriously. “Wrath?” they say. “Did I hear you say wrath? You must be joking. I know people used to speak of God being angry with us because we do wrong things, but that is not the way to think of God today. Speak of God's love. Speak of mercy, even justice perhaps. But not wrath, at least not if you want to be taken seriously.”

This outlook is an example of the very slavery about which I have just been writing. The world does not take wrath seriously because it does not take sin seriously. But if sin is as bad as the Bible (even this passage) declares it to be, then nothing is more reasonable than the wrath of a holy God rising against it. In the Old Testament there are more than twenty words that are used to express the idea of God's wrath, and more than six hundred important passages deal with it. In the New Testament there are two important words: thumos, which means “to rush along fiercely” or “to be in a heat of violence," The other word, orge, comes from a root meaning “to grow ripe for something.” The first word describes the release of the divine wrath in what we call the final judgment. It is found chiefly in Revelation, which describes this judgment. The second word points to God's gradually building and intensifying opposition to sin. It is the word found most often throughout the New Testament. The Bible says, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30, 31).

Study Questions:

  1. Yesterday we saw that the Bible views man as being dead in transgressions and sins. How else does the Bible view man?
  2. How is a sinner enslaved?
  3. From the lesson, what is the worst thing about our sinful condition apart from God’s grace?

Reflection: Think of how you were in your sad past before God brought you to salvation, and praise him for his grace in your life.

Application: Who do you know who is still dead in their sins and needs the grace of God in Christ? How will you endeavor this week to share the gospel with them?

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